Calling for "compassion and common sense," New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (D) today outlined an election-year agenda that calls for tax cuts, urban enterprise zones, a work program for welfare mothers and a proposal to clean up toxic wastes.
The New York Democrat, who faces a reelection campaign this year and is a possible presidential candidate in 1988, combined Democratic and Republican themes in his state-of-the-state speech and an accompanying 137-page message to the legislature.
Together, they left some GOP legislators here grumbling about "plagiarism." But Cuomo said his program represents the "progressive pragmatism" he has long favored.
"It's a combination of compassion and common sense," he said in an interview. "Traditional labels don't work well."
Cuomo's message included a number of traditional Democratic initiatives -- such as more money for the homeless, for housing, for toxic waste cleanup and for family planning -- all possible because New York, like other states in the Northeast, is prospering and has enough money both to cut taxes and moderately increase services.
Polls show Cuomo to be one of the most popular governors in New York history, but he has insisted repeatedly that he is not running for president. Still, a number of his aides hope that a big reelection victory in November could put him in a strong position should a draft-Cuomo movement develop.
Today's half-hour speech touched only lightly on the rousing themes of fairness and the family of man that marked his keynote address to the 1984 Democratic convention and helped thrust him into national prominence. The speech today was delivered in a flat tone, sparking only lackadaisical applause from the audience of legislators and capitol regulars. The loudest clapping came on a purely local issue, when Cuomo said he wouldn't reallocate upstate hydropower to energy-hungry downstate communities.
"We are not afraid to be called 'compassionate,' " Cuomo said. "But we believe that any system of public welfare that discourages employment and encourages dependence on government subsidy from generation to generation is not compassionate but callous."
If the rhetoric sounded slightly Reaganesque, Cuomo insisted that his work program for welfare recipients differs significantly from the mandatory workfare program President Reagan proposed in 1981. "This is not workfare," Cuomo said. "Workfare is requiring people to work on public projects. We are not going to make them mop floors. We want to place them in private-sector jobs that have upward mobility."
Cuomo's proposal, which combines elements from other state programs, including one in Massachusetts, would require all welfare applicants to be screened for employment potential. Six demonstration projects, each serving about 500 people, would provide counseling, training, day care and job placement for single mothers with children under six years old.
Cuomo said his "opportunity zones" are different from the enterprise zones proposed earlier by Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) and Reagan. The governor said he does not favor certain concessions strongly opposed by organized labor, such as a sub-minimum wage, or the relaxation of public-health regulations.
Like the Republican proposals, however, Cuomo's opportunity zones would provide incentives, such as low-cost power, tax cuts and state investment aid, to persuade businesses to expand in poor neighborhoods.
"The message is filled with calls for fiscal restraint," said Controller Edward V. Regan, the highest elected Republican in state government. "It has a lot of good suggestions I had made myself earlier."
Rep. Ray McGrath (R) called the speech "sort of bland," adding that "If you look at Cuomo's budgets, he's a lot less government-oriented than he sounds . . . . Enterprise zones, tax cuts, creating jobs through private enterprise -- that's Republican talk."
State Sen. Roy Goodman, a possible Cuomo opponent in November, said Cuomo had "plagiarized" Republican ideas, but had not gone far enough. GOP legislators favor a new $3.9 billion tax-cut program beyond the $1.1 billion scheduled for this year as part of a three-year tax reduction enacted in 1985.
Liberals also found little to criticize in Cuomo's program. While the state's business council pronounced itself "delighted" with proposals for economic development, the Environmental Planning Lobby praised his "brilliant agenda for environmental protection," including a $1.4 billion proposed bond issue for toxic waste site cleanup and a bill to extend the time for victims of toxic pollution to bring suits.
"Cuomo resists being pigeonholed," said Attorney General Robert Abrams, a liberal Democrat. "He demonstrates compassion with hardheaded fiscal concern."
Despite the warm reception for today's message, however, some legislators are predicting a highly contentious year for Cuomo. In December, the governor called an emergency legislative session to try to force the GOP-dominated Senate to accept his program for curbing medical malpractice insurance rates. GOP legislators accused him of "bullying" them and refused to enact a bill.
Nonetheless, Cuomo says he will try to stay above politics in the coming year and has conspicuously mended fences with Senate leader Warren Anderson, while going out of his way to praise Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, the New York Republican who is up for reelection this year.
Cuomo and D'Amato are cooperating closely on the fight to preserve the deductibility of state and local taxes from federal taxes in the current reform bills before Congress.